Alston: it's steep, unique and chock-full of charm!
Sat 1,000 feet above sea level, this historic town is one of England's highest market settlements. Once you've caught your breath, Alston's cobbled streets have a lot to offer, including ample shopping, fascinating history and fantastic views of the North Pennines. It’s one of those places you’ll be raving about long after you’ve returned home!
Here's our rundown of some of the best things to do in the area.
South Tynedale Railway
South Tynedale Railway in Alston
As England's highest narrow-gauge railway, the South Tynedale Railway offers a thrilling ride through some of Northern England’s most beautiful scenery. Travelling on preserved steam and diesel locomotives, the line follows a steep climb through the Tyne Valley at the centre of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The line was originally opened in 1852 and ran for over a century until its closure in 1976. Since the 1980s, volunteers have lovingly restored much of the route as well as the old railway buildings, creating a charming visitor attraction that runs for nearly 5 miles. This self-styled 'friendly' railway is a great day out for families, offering accessibility on all of their trains as well as being very dog-friendly.
The Hub Heritage and Transport Museum
A must-see for transport enthusiasts, this quirky little museum is packed to the rafters with over 1,000 historical artefacts. The exhibits feature plenty of classic vehicles including old cars, motorbikes and bicycles, as well memorabilia such as train sets and road signs.
The museum also provides a fascinating snapshot of Alston's social history through its extensive collection of old photographs and stories from local residents.
Have a look at our list of top museums in the Lake District and Cumbria.
Ashgill Force near Alston
Just 4 miles from Alston lies the spectacular, cascading waters of Ashgill Force. Towering 17 metres high, it is accessed via a short, scenic footpath from Ashgill Bridge, encountering a series of smaller waterfalls and an impressive woodland gorge on the way.
Ashgill Force is a marvel of geology. Over thousands of years, the soft sedimentary rock has eroded to create a broad clearing, through which the waters thrash against the boulders of sandstone and limestone. On calmer days, you can capture some impressive photos by standing behind the flowing water. The site has also become very popular with revellers enjoying a wild swim!
Epiacum Roman Fort
Known for its unusual lozenge shape, Epiacum is a Roman fort built to protect local lead-mining practices and to support the border defences of nearby Hadrian's Wall. The fort - heralded as one of the best-preserved in the UK - was erected in the 2nd century before being partly demolished and rebuilt around AD 200.
Along the way, you'll find educational information panels as well as a Family Clue Trail. The walk to the top of the fort is a little steep, but the reward comes in spectacular views of the North Pennines. Keep an eye out for wildlife too; the site is home to a manner of small creatures including hares, curlews and skylarks. When you've finished your walk, treat yourself to something tasty at the farm shop and cafe.
If you’re partial to a bit of local history, have a look at our blog featuring historical sites in Cumbria.
Cow Green Reservoir
Located at the heart of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Cow Green is a 2-mile-long reservoir and one of the highest of its kind in England. Built during 1971 to meet the needs of Teesside’s growing industries, the area is known for its rich habitat of flora and fauna. It's also home to rare rock formations such as Whin Sill and sugar limestone.
For a rugged walk enveloped by wild moorland and dramatic views of the North Pennines, look no further: the reservoir is located on the Pennine Way, following the route from Middleton-in-Teasdale, via High Cup Nick to Dufton in the Eden Valley.
Alston's landscape is heavily influenced by centuries of mining, being rich in materials such as limestone, sandstone and shale. Located in the nearby village of Nenthead are the Nenthead Mines, a famous geological site showcasing the history of the lead and zinc mining industry of the North Pennines.
The site offers guided tours of the mines (booking recommended): don your helmet and lamp before heading underground to explore the site through a network of paths and trackways. The conserved buildings on the site include a small museum and interpretation display. For a nice finishing touch, all tours are rounded off with tea and homemade cake!
St Augustine of Canterbury Church
Known colloquially as 'The Cathedral of the North Pennines,' St Augustine's is open daily to visitors and holds services regularly. The church is well-known for its impressive 16th-century clock, named the Derwentwater Clock after its previous owner, the Earl of Derwentwater.
This Grade II listed building was built in 1869, but it’s thought that a previous church once existed there as early as 1145 AD. St Augustine's is a rather beautiful building featuring stunning stained-glass windows and marble columns as well as a lofty spire that looks over the town.
There are lots of churches across Cumbria and the Lake District (including England's smallest church!).
Shops in Alston in the North Pennines
Don't be fooled by its size - Alston has an eclectic range of shops that puts bigger towns to shame! Retaining its character as an old market town with its traditional stone cottage shops, the cobbled streets of Alston are a charming place for some retail therapy.
The aptly-named Market Cross sells a range of quirky and unusual gifts and is heralded by a lovely patchwork elephant just outside the entrance. For foodies, Alston Wholefoods is a real gem, selling local specialities such as Cumberland Honey Mustard (made in Alston!), Mr Vikki's chutneys, and locally-made cheeses. Be sure to visit The Cane Workshop, which has two floors showcasing locally-made handiwork, including furniture and crafts.
There’s lots of fantastic shops in Cumbria, have a look at some of our favourites.
Impressed by all Alston has to offer? Take a look at our holiday cottages nearby in the Eden Valley.
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